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Wrongful convictions reversal: system integrity underscored

Talk about having an impact on your job.

Just consider this proportional assessment: one out of 1,067.

Getting straight to the point, that means this: the zealous and frenetic work of one forensic laboratory's professed "most prolific analyst" secured criminal convictions in those cited 1,000-plus cases, only to have all but one of them dismissed last week for what a prosecutor in one county conceded was tainted lab evidence.

And that is far from the end of the tale as recounted in a national news report chronicling the "rogue lab chemist."

To wit: Prosecutors from six other counties (in Massachusetts) joined the above-cited attorney in a Boston courtroom and similarly dismissed convictions in their jurisdictions. In all, the mass dismissals -- termed by NBC News as "perhaps the biggest ever" -- numbered more than 21,000 cases.

That jaw-dropping development is clearly relevant everywhere across the United States, and certainly in North Carolina, where -- similarly to Massachusetts -- an appreciable number of inmates currently languish in state prisons following their convictions in low-level drug cases.

In Suffolk County, which includes Boston, less than 1% of the convictions that were obtained in cases involving the chemist's input (she served three years in prison after admitting to evidence tampering and forgery) survived.

Although the development is both right and logical, it does not remedy the injustice already suffered by legions of wrongfully convicted individuals. Commentators note that many of them had post-conviction problems finding employment and housing, and defendants in some instances received harsher stepped-up sentences involving other crimes because of their drug convictions.

We have stressed in prior blog posts how flatly imperative it is in every criminal matter for a defense attorney to view state's evidence with a due level of skepticism and subject it to withering examination.

Because, as starkly underscored in today's blog story, that evidence is sometimes flawed and can yield appalling outcomes.

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